2022 Year in Review
Like any year before it, agriculture had its share of challenges in 2022, but the industry also hit significant milestones and ultimately persevered.
While fertilizer prices and the conflict between the Ukraine and Russia impacted farmers across the United States, the Mid-Atlantic also dealt with its own unique challenges while celebrating its achievements.
As the agriculture industry prepares for 2023, here’s a review of 2022.
Heading into last year, farmers faced steep price increases on most of the inputs they need to farm.
“It’ll be a lot of sharpening the pencil and deciding what is going to be the best crop mix for the 2022 growing season,” Southampton County, Va., farmer, Richard Kitchen, said last January.
As for farm sales, farmers’ market activity was picking back up in the winter as pandemic restrictions continued to ease. The restrictions forced many retail-facing farms to pivot to online ordering, on-farm pickup and other means to get their products to customers
“The small farmer proved that we’re an integral, important part of the food system,” said Becky Gurley who helped start Chesapeake Farm to Table, an online aggregator of area farm products. “We could turn on a dime.”
January also saw the start of large meetings and events returning to an in-person format. The Mid-Atlantic Nursery and Trade Show in Baltimore was one of the first with 5,700 on-site attendees.
“While our foot traffic was lighter than pre-pandemic times, I’m extremely proud that we were able to bring together green industry suppliers and buyers in Baltimore this year,” said Vanessa Finney, MANTS executive vice president.
After winning the Executive Mansion in Virginia, Gov. Glenn Youngkin in January selected Matt Lohr as Secretary of Agriculture and Joe Guthrie as Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
As a fifth-generation farmer, Lohr was raised on a Virginia century family farm in the Shenandoah Valley. During the pandemic, Lohr served as the chief of the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, and previously served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 2006-10 and as the VDACS commissioner. Guthrie was raised on his family’s farm in Pulaski County, and received his bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics from Virginia Tech. He was named Virginia Tech’s Man of the Year as the outstanding graduating senior in 1989. He served several years on the local school board, Board of Supervisors and was a senior instructor at Virginia Tech and has been teaching courses in business management, finance, communications, and leadership in the Agricultural Technology Program.
In Maryland, Steve Connolly was appointed to be Deputy Secretary at the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
Also in January, the Talbot Corn Club celebrated its 70th anniversary and continued as the oldest continuous yield improvement program of its kind.
February brought concern to poultry farmers as confirmed cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza increased in wild birds. By the end of the month it was confirmed on a commercial poultry farm in New Castle County, Del. It was the first time the disease reached a commercial farm in Delaware since 2004. State and federal officials depopulated the affected birds, restricted movement to and from nearby farms and sanitized the infected premises.
In March, the disease was found on two farms in Cecil County, one farm in Queen Anne’s County and one farm in Kent County, Del. Owing to warmer weather and diligent biosecurity practices in the industry, the disease stayed away from commercial farms until November when it was confirmed in poultry on a Washington County farm.
On Feb. 24, Russia invaded the Ukraine and as its impact rippled through world markets, ag specialists urged farmers to pay attention.
“I encourage all of you to step back with your teams and really look hard at what other vulnerabilities exist in your supply chain, in your sales,” said Brett Bruen, former White House director of global engagement, while speaking at the Virginia Governor’s Conference on Agricultural Trade in March.
Maryland celebrated farm operations in March. The Mark and Vicky Eck family of Queen Anne’s County was inducted into the Governor’s Agriculture Hall of Fame and the agriculture department honored eight operations with Century Farm status. In May, four farms in Delaware joined the state’s Century Farm club.
In April, Second Chances Farm, an indoor hydroponic vertical farm started with much fanfare in 2019 closed its facility in Wilmington, Del. The 48,000 square-foot operation grew leafy greens and employed ex-convicts with the mission to reduce recidivism.
Later in the month, the Southern Maryland Agriculture Development Corporation received a boost with guaranteed funding through 2025. Gov. Larry Hogan signed legislation budgeting $900,000 to SMADC annually. Without the law, the group’s state funding was set to end in 2023.
Warnings of tar spot, a “bogeyman” disease in corn came from Dr. David Langston, Virginia Extension plant pathologist. The disease has caused big yield losses in the Midwest and was present in states bordering Virginia, Langston said. The disease went undetected for much of the growing season, but in early September, it was confirmed in a cornfield in Harford County, Md.
In May, Maryland Farm Bureau secured permits for depredation control of black vultures to be distributed to farmers. The vulture population has steadily increased and wreaked havoc on many farms, killing livestock and damage property. Farm Bureau secured permits to take up to 100 vultures.
“Unlike turkey vultures, black vultures will actually attack live, young of weak animas, such as lambs, calves and piglets, usually working as a group,” said MDFB’s Tyler Hough.
The vultures also became a growing biosecurity risk as they were more frequently found with avian influenza.
Assessment and taxation of farm property got attention in Delaware and Maryland in May. Seizing on an opportunity brought about through a mandated property reassessment, the Delaware Farm Bureau backed a state bill to exclude farm buildings and structures from assessment or taxation. Though it received a favorable vote in the Agriculture Committee, it did not get a floor vote before the end of the session.
In Maryland, several farm breweries, horse farms and other operations in value-added production shared concern that the state had changed the way it assesses the value of improvements to some buildings on agricultural land. State officials said there have been no changes. A bill passed in April requiring the state to study the issue.
“So many of these businesses are getting started as a lifeline to stay on the farm, to keep the farm,” said Kevin Atticks, executive director of Grow & Fortify, which operates several state trade associations in value-added agriculture. “Farmers and their kin are looking for ways to make farms profitable because many are no longer profitable.”
On the last day of May, Perdue AgriBusiness closed its grain terminal in Easton, Md. The facility had been operating since the 1930s but in recent years the amount of grain delivered to it had dropped 40 percent, a company spokesman said. The closure was not surprising to most farmers who noted challenges in getting through the town with trucks and a lack of investment in improving the facility.
A small grains field day in June showcased University of Maryland-bred wheat lines that could soon be available commercially.
Using a process he called “speed breeding,” Dr. Vijay Tiwari, assistant professor in Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, said he has 68 prospective lines in development and 15 lines in strip trials.
By the end of the year, Tiwari said he hoped to have some lines available for commercial licensing to seed companies.
“It’s really exploded,” said Dr. John Erwin, chairman of the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, during the field day. “All of a sudden, Maryland is on the map nationally for its small grains genetics.”
On June 22, Infarm, a Dutch urban farming company announced plans to open a massive indoor produce facility in Howard County that could grow up to 45 million units of food each year.
Infarm said is renovating a 200,000-square-foot building in Columbia for a new growing center to serve as its hub to supply grocery store chains along the East Coast. After completion, the facility will be the company’s largest and is part of its expanding presence in the United States.
“Howard County is a great strategic location that will allow us to serve over 23 million consumers across the tri-state and Mid-Atlantic areas,” said Erez Galonska, the company’s CEO and co-founder.
In Delaware, the Farm Bureau announced W. Donald Clifton II as its new executive director. Growing grain and vegetables on his family farm in Milton, Del., Clifton also served as State Executive Director of the USDA Farm Service Agency for the Clinton and Obama administrations.
Also in June, farmers who partnered with Baltimore distillery, Sagamore Spirit, to grow rye for producing a Maryland-grown whiskey were nearing the crop’s harvest. Some of the partnerships go back five years with the whiskey’s release after aging coming during the end fall.
“We’re trying to build the infrastructure to support this long-term,” said Max Hames, Sagamore’s distillery operations manager. “It’s a tenacious crop. I think it grows exceptionally well in a lot of places, but I think we do get that Maryland terroir by growing it here.”
On July 21 during the Kent County Fair, the Kent Clover Calf 4-H Club celebrated its 100th anniversary of continuous operation on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
“There’s been no break,” said Beth Hill, University of Maryland Extension 4-H agent for Kent County. “They survived wars and everything else and it’s still going.”
When it was formed in 1922 with six members, the club was focused on the dairy project. Now, the club is the county’s only general interest 4-H club with about 60 members.
Jennifer Debnam of Kennedyville, started as the club’s current leader in 2004 as her children became old enough to join. Though her three sons have since aged out of the program, she has stayed.
“It was rewarding and I stuck with it,” she said. “I just enjoy watching the kids learn things and seeing them grow.”
After 18 years as leader, Debnam is now getting “kids of kids” that were in the club years ago.
“It makes you feel old, but it’s a neat feeling, too,” she said, laughing.
The Livestock Extravaganza returned to the Delaware State Fair after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Livestock judges in tuxedos evaluated the top steer, market lamb, market goat and market swine entries from Delaware youth, each complimenting them on their animals and working hard to compete at a high level.
“The quality is great out here today,” said sheep judge Alex Wolf. “There’s only a couple of you that get to leave with banners but this is going to be a tremendous experience for each one of you.”
A U.S. team led by Virginia Tech students won the International Soil Judging Contest held in Scotland July 26-31.
“I could not have been prouder of the entire USA team,” said USA coach John Galbraith, a professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences. “They practiced hard and learned quickly and worked well together as a team. Each one was our most valuable player.”
At an Aug. 30 meeting, the Maryland Agriculture Resource Council board of directors voted unanimously to cease operation and donate its remaining funds to a county land trust and other areas that fit the council’s mission. MARC was a Baltimore County-based nonprofit focused on enhancing the rural economy and fostering conservation of agricultural and natural resources through education. According to a Sept. 21 news release from MARC, the decision was made in response to changes in recent years at the county’s Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park, where MARC was based, including restrictions related to the pandemic and the county’s Department of Recreation and Parks assuming all operations at the center.
Board Chairman Tom Whedbee said while MARC volunteers worked for years at the farm park in cooperation with county government, it pushed for a Memorandum of Understanding with the county to formalize the relationship, but each time the county transitioned to new administration the matter went unresolved.
“MARC never got an agreement in writing for what the purpose would be,” Whedbee said. “We never had a lease or an MOU or anything like that.”
In September, Perdue AgriBusiness canceled a meeting with farmers to discuss a proposal to avert the closure of its elevator in Lothian, Md. According to a spokesperson, too few farmers could attend. Perdue first announced shuttering the elevator in March 2021 but agreed to extend it operation for two growing seasons. As of late December, the meeting had not been rescheduled.
The expanding range of the invasive spotted lanternfly hit grape growers particularly hard in the fall. One northern Maryland grower said he lost about 75 percent of his production this year to pest damage.
“Our grapes are definitely taking a beating,” said Kelly Dudeck, chair of the Maryland Agricultural Commission, at the group’s Sept. 14 meeting.
Ten counties and Baltimore City are under quarantine to combat the rapidly spreading lanternfly.
On Oct. 14, the Maryland Soil Judging Team won the Northeast Regional Soil Judging contest, earning a spot in the national competition in Oklahoma in the spring of 2023. Two teams represented the state and ultimately tied for first place.
At the 95th National FFA convention in late October, Andrew Seibel of Virginia was named national FFA president. He is the 13th national FFA officer from Virginia and the fifth to earn the national president title.
“It’s going to be a whirlwind of activity, but I have so many people in my life who I know will support me along this amazing journey,” Seibel said.
Deer management got much attention in December. Lower Shore Farm Bureaus brought back its popular Doe Harvest Challenge and expanded into Dorchester County. In the challenge, participating hunters enter drawings to win $1,000. Farmers in the area said crop damage from deer has increased to the point of some fields not being profitable to farm.
At the Delaware Farm Bureau’s annual meeting, delegates approved a policy resolution that “white-tailed deer be designated as a ‘pest’ in the state of Delaware” and that the state establish an Emergency Deer Damage Task Force “to study and make findings and recommendations regarding ways to decrease the deer damage in Delaware.”
Designation as a pest, “gives us the opportunity to treat them like a weed, insect, fungus or other things we try to eradicate or lessen the impact of,” said Sussex County farmer, Jay Baxter. “We want, in the future, to be able to list off the things we can use to control a pest on our farm.”
Also in December, a Virginia farmer won the National Corn Growers Association’s national yield competition. Heath Cutrell of Chesapeake, Va., had the contests’ highest yield entry at 394 bushels per acre. Maryland farmer Drew Haines, of Middletown, placed second overall with an entry of 384.8 bushels per acre.